A Finite Fraternity: Combat Fighter Ace

By Scott Spangler on August 24th, 2015 | 5 Comments »

Frederick Payne, America’s oldest surviving combat fighter ace, died August 6 at age 104. According to his obituary in The New York Times, the retired U.S. Marine Corps brigadier general earned this singular achievement at the controls of a Grumman F4F Wildcat in the skies over Guadalcanal in 1942.

What’s interesting to me is that the pilots who will likely be America’s last two combat fighter aces, Duke Cunningham and Steve Ritchie, joined this finite community a mere 30 years after Payne, when they each downed the requisite five enemy aircraft in 1972 in the skies over Vietnam. Flying the F-4 Phantom, their back-seaters, William Driscoll and Charles DeBellevue, share this combat achievement. American aviators have logged a lot of combat time in the ensuring 43 years, but conflict has changed, and most of their targets are on the ground—or on the screen.

It seems clear that the era of the combat fighter ace exists only in history, and that those who’ve earned this distinction are members of a finite fraternity.

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Aviation is Work … Usually

By Robert Mark on August 18th, 2015 | 7 Comments »
Winair group

The team arrives at St. Barths

I really don’t like traveling much any more. It’s usually way too much work on the airlines, efforts over which I usually have very little control other than complaining a bit on Twitter which doesn’t do much these days anyway. My business jet trips are fewer and farther between than the old days too.

Take my trip last week down to St. Maarten in the Caribbean for a media junket with 10 other writers, about evenly split between aviation and travel journalists. I swear the folks @americanair were trying to see just how cumbersome they could make the trip.

Despite American, I did know St. Maarten would be beautiful. And I knew I’d see a bunch of airplane geeks hanging around the fences at the approach end of SXM’s runway trying not to get blown over when KLM’s 747-400 poured the coals to it on takeoff. Sure the food would probably be scrumptious and yes, I knew I’d surely meet some memorable people from the islands.

But I also knew it was going to be work … the folks at Princess Juliana International airport wanted to show us SXM up close and personal, so we’d go back and tell others, many others what we experienced. I was ready, prepared even, because that’s my job these days, turning my eagle eye on some issue, some person or a place and synthesizing it all into some pithy text to be read by millions.

OK, OK so I’m not much of liar, except that the SXM folks really did want us to experience the region for a week.

And the trip to SXM was incredible, truly incredible. I’ve never seen such pristine waters or breathtaking views that close to sea level.

Certainly there are thanks in order, like the great ladies at SXM – Regina, Annmarie, Suzy and the others – for inviting me to experience the island and its role as a hub to its surrounding neighbors last week, but also a tip of the hat to the other writers who joined me on St. Maarten. While we more experienced writers may possess a wealth of industry knowledge, our younger colleagues also possess a solid grasp on new mthods to use technology for aviation story telling.


Liz Moscrop interviewing St. Barths airport managing director Fabrice Danet

There was Seth from @runwaygirl and @wandrme, who always seemed to be managing three or four different video and still cameras.

Adam from @privatefly who insists his awesome Twin Otter video at St. Barths was only luck – A Close Up Arrival at St.Barths.

Leslie, alias @leslieyip0911, who turned the idea of delivering a Dominos pizza by plane into an awesome 1-minute branding spectacular in one day – Mashable Pizza Delivery Flight. Kristen from @BorderFreeProd, who shot more video about lush travel options and food than all of us put together I think, or @lizmoscrop who never appeared the entire week without her iPhone on a stick ready to shoot the next story. And these are only a few of the journalists I worked with.


St. Maarten’s Prime Minister Marcel Gumbs and Jetwhine Publisher Rob Mark talked aviation for an hour

I can’t forget the print folks … @kcreedy, @allplane, @airdestinations, @hazelking25 and @atastefortravel. I hope I didn’t miss anyone.

And of course the great companies that sponsored part of last week like WinAir – @flywinair – for transportation between the islands, especially Helena De Bekker and the way she jumped into all the extra work we piled on her, Earl Wyatt From Seagrapes and his business partner Sheldon Palm from TLC Aviation and the Sonesta Ocean Point Reesort. There was Michel Hodge from the Airport Board of Directors, Nils Dufau from St. Barths’ tourism office, Greg Hassell and his crew from the SXM control tower that gave us the full ATC tour and of course Cdr. Bud @cdrbud who was the idea man behind much of the week’s events. A bunch of local writers connected with us as well like Fabian Badejo and Darlene Hodge. And who could forget our most excellent photographer Alain Duzant. Read the rest of this entry »

Aviation Safety: Courage and the Pragmatic Acceptance of Inalienable Power

By Scott Spangler on August 12th, 2015 | Comments Off on Aviation Safety: Courage and the Pragmatic Acceptance of Inalienable Power

Like pilots everywhere, I never surrender an opportunity to go flying. And then there are days like today. Thunder rumbles closer, rain beats on the windows, and online radar reveals the crawling approach of a large green blob with an enlarged blood red heart. Yes, today is a good day to be on the ground, and nothing would persuade me to think—or act—otherwise.

An inalienable fact of aviation safety is that decisions based on anything other than a pragmatic assessment of the risks and consequences involved too often have terminal conclusions. And yet, as a community, we pilots too often address such situations with the optimism of those who invest in Powerball tickets.

Courage is another essential aspect of aviation safety because too often our piloting peers encourage a sanguine assessment of the risks and recount their adventures in beating the odds against them in similar situations. I’ve never seen peer pressure as a contributing cause in an NTSB accident report, but from experience and observation it is certainly a factor.

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Jetwhine to AirVenture: Lunch for 20 Please

By Robert Mark on August 7th, 2015 | Comments Off on Jetwhine to AirVenture: Lunch for 20 Please

JW Lunch-2Jetwhine to AirVenture: Lunch for 20 Please

One of the best parts of my annual trek to AirVenture is that happily, I have always found it next to impossible to sit anywhere on the grounds and NOT talk to the person next to me.

Over the years I’ve run into pilots, other bloggers and podcasters, dads and daughters building their own airplane, aviation geeks from a array of countries, air traffic controllers in pink shirts – that’s normal for AirVenture in case you’re wondering – and even the CEO of companies who just happened to end up sharing the same chunk of ground. The conversations are always fascinating and many of the friendships have become lifelong.

This year I tried something a bit different and invited a few random folks through the blog to join me for lunch at the show. It seemed like a good idea considering that I attended my first EAA Convention 50 years ago. The only requirements to participate were that folks get their bid in early and agree to proudly wear a Jetwhine button. The spots were gone half an hour after the story posted in fact. No fewer than 20 people took me up on the offer and it turned out to be great fun dragging a couple of tables together near a food tent just a hundred feet from EAA Jetwhine buttonRadio where I spent part of my AirVenture volunteer time this year.

Let’s see how many names I remember … Jeff, Adam, a couple of guys named John, Glenn, Brett, Amy, Joe, Starr, Pat, Brian, a pair of guys named Larry, Irv, Bill, Tom, Mike, Bob and Linda Funk (yes, like the airplane), Mike and Scott. If you didn’t see your name it’s because that’s the best my memory can offer up.

JW Lunch-1Thanks to all of you for joining the a Jetwhine luncheons and chatting about about all things airplane like. It sure beat just grabbing a brat and going back to my volunteer activities. For those of you who did join Scot Spangler and I for lunch, tell us what you saw at the show that really caught your attention … once you left lunch with your Jetwhine button attached of course.

See you next year, when we’ll try … who knows what, Rob Mark, alias @Jetwhine

AirVenture Gateway Park: Portal to Drone Integration & Safety?

By Scott Spangler on July 30th, 2015 | Comments Off on AirVenture Gateway Park: Portal to Drone Integration & Safety?

Framed by the diagonal street that connects the main gate of EAA AirVenture to the forums area is a triangle of land that over the years has proven to be a prism that spotlights a newest member of the aviation community before it mixes invisibly into the larger community.

Drone-2Now named Aviation Gateway Park, this prism was borne with the arrival of light sport aircraft, which now exhibit with and among the rest of kit and airframe manufacturers. This year the spotlight illuminated drones, which flew almost constant demonstrations in the three-story cage sponsored by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Long, always filled bleachers faced the alfresco end of the cage. It was even harder to find an air conditioned seat that faced the cage from that end of the Innovation Center.

Full bleachers were just one way to measure the popularity drone integration at AirVenture. Roughly half the floor space in the Innovation Center was filled with drone sellers large and small, and the crowds around them reminded me of the Garmin booth when it introduced is GPS products in the early 1990s. And many of the visitors there were not leaving empty handed.

Love them or hate them, drones are part of the aviation community, and AirVenture’s Gateway Park did its part to make their integration with the larger aviation community safe. The cage that defined their flight area addressed the immediate concern, and the narrators expanded that message during the demonstrations, at least at the half dozen demonstrations I watched. As part of their descriptions of each drone’s capabilities and uses, they explained where and how to fly them safely.

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AirVenture 2015, Jetwhine AND a Free Lunch?

By Robert Mark on July 13th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Here’s Tom Poberezny scooting around AirVenture in Red One VW that his dad Paul made famous decades ago.

Ed Note: We’ve had such a great response to the story that I’m sad to say we’ve run out of slots for lunch. Do send along an e-mail if you’d still like to connect at AirVenture to grab some Jetwhine/Airplane Geeks buttons.


Long before Jetwhine and the Airplane Geeks Show, there was the EAA Convention and Fly-In, first organized in 1953 founded by Paul Poberezny and a few other dedicated aviators. AirVenture in Oshkosh has been an annual celebration of things that fly ever since.

The convention was the first airshow I ever attended as a kid back in 1965 when it was simply known around Chicagoland as the Rockford Fly-In, held at Rockford Airport (KRFD) west of Chicago Back then, the show wasn’t the nation’s largest airshow as it’s become today.

That was 50 years ago this summer for me and it still seems like just a few years ago that someone let me lose on the airport with a pair of orange paddles and showed me how to guide the airplanes to parking in the grass at RFD. Each night I’d arrive home exhausted with a brain exploding with enthusiasm and a thousand ideas of where I’d eventually fit as a grown-up. So much for history.

A Little Camaraderie?

Despite the woes of our industry, what makes AirVenture valuable to anyone with even the remotest interest in anything that flies are the people you’ll meet … somewhere between 500,000-600,000 attend each year. The variety of new and old aircraft, not to mention thousands of unique add-on products are cool, but it’s the people I see again each year, as well as the new ones I meet that keep me coming back. Read the rest of this entry »

Delusions Impede Aviation Future

By Scott Spangler on July 6th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Airbus recently flew the first production version of its Voltair E-Fan 2.0, a two-seat electric airplane. The realization of this aviation technology is something we should all celebrate because it is another important step toward aviation’s future. Offsetting this step is that the realization of this technology is being hailed, at least by the Wall Street Journal’s special feature’s section, as a the possible fulfillment of a “dream of science fiction writers for years for everyone to have their own personal flying machine parked next to the car in their garage.”

Dreamers have been pursuing this immortal delusion since its birth during the optimistic aviation future following World War II. Celebrating the possibilities of this maturing technology is but another unfulfilled dream because it doesn’t consider—or address—the realities of life in the wide awake world.

First, getting a driver’s license, let along a car, is a declining desire in the next generation of pilots and aircraft owners. As reported by Forbes magazine, federal census and highway administration data show that 27 percent of 16 year olds get their driver’s licenses today; in 1983, it was 47 percent.

Some of the reasons offered by the Forbe’s article include lack of time for driver’s education and the lack of money needed to buy a car. Given this data, it seems safe to assume that many in this generation would not invest many thousands of dollars and many months of training necessary to earn a pilot certificate and instrument rating necessary to operate in most weather conditions.

Another practical reality is airspace capacity in the United States and Europe, the two largest aviation markets. Unless you live in the boonies, you have to get in line to get airborne, and most people who live in the boonies can’t afford to pursue such expensive dreams. And, I wonder, what about the roadways that connect an airplane in every garage to an airport, the portal to the kingdom of the sky?

Dreamers should not surrender their pursuit of any technology in the face of such realities, but at the same time they should not support this work with science fiction dreams because it is counterproductive in a world no longer shaped by mass market mentality. Perhaps a better path would be that being blazed by medical gene therapy that customizes treatment to an individual’s specific needs. –Scott Spangler, Editor

Brennand Airport Invests in Fun Flying

By Scott Spangler on June 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off on Brennand Airport Invests in Fun Flying

Brennand-3Needing an airplane fix on the Saturday before Father’s Day I wandered over to Brennand Airport (79C), 10 miles north of Oshkosh and 4 miles west of Neenah. It is today what small, nontowered airports used to be, fence free and focused on fun flying. Maybe that’s because the public-use field is privately owned, but that owner, Keith Mustain, has made a serious investment in the future of recreational aviation.

In 2014 he built a new hangar anchored to a brick office. Its second story balcony is a perfect place to watch airplanes come and go from the 2,450-foot long runway. When Mustain repaved it in 2013, he widened it to 30 feet and adorned it with FAA-standard runway markings. It is lighted and a nonstandard PAPI provides final approach guidance. For a better look at what’s inside, like the lounge and gourmet kitchen, pool table, laundry and full bath, and two-lane bowling alley with an air race theme, follow the link in the paragraph above to the airport website. I dare say you’ll be gobsmacked, as I was.

Maybe it was the weather, a mid-level overcast growing dark with rain to the north, or maybe it was Father’s Day weekend festivities, but I was one of the few humans on the airport. Two dads working on an Aeronca Chief closed their hangar door at 3 p.m. and waved as they drove by. Self-serve 100LL was available 24/7, and Mustain had posted several signs with a number to call if anyone needed anything. Two women talking in the open door of their family shop at the far end of the ramp said that weekends are not normally this quiet, especially when it holds an event.

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Commercial Drones Facing Pilot Shortage

By Scott Spangler on June 8th, 2015 | 10 Comments »

Vortex Drone session, 5/30/15 at Atlantic Aviation, PWK.To learn more about commercial drone operations, I recently attended a 4-hour introductory course for pilots conducted by Vortex UAS. The thorough presentation covered everything from history to the current legal landscape. What I did  not expect was to learn that commercial drones are facing a growing pilot shortage because they must be operated by an FAA certificated pilot.

Vortex UAS President Vince Donohue made it clear that there is no FAA certificate for drone operators (right now). But to receive a certificate of authorization for commercial operations under Section 333 FAA Modernization & Reform Act of 2012, commercial drones must be operated by an individual holding a private pilot certificate and current third-class medical. Explaining this opportunity to pilots is what led to Vortex’s introductory course.

The act did not explain the requirement for a certificated pilot, but there are two logical assumptions. First, certificated pilots have demonstrated their knowledge of aviation and airspace regulations, and they have some experience operating in the National Airspace System. Second, with a certificate involved, the FAA can enforce violations of those regs.

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Gray Skies and Memorial Day Reflections

By Scott Spangler on May 25th, 2015 | 2 Comments »

3-25-2013: A political statement, apathetic neglect, or a combination of both?Most Americans today have but two connections with those who serve and have served in the military, and especially those who have perished in that service. The first is the hollow seconds it takes to utter “Thank you for your service,” an seemingly autonomic reflex when seeing someone in uniform. The other occurs should they see a film about any of our many conflicts. Since America’s last declared war, which ended 70 years ago, Memorial Day has become an annual celebration of patriotic hypocrisy, when people might notice that the American flag they ran up their front yard pole last year is faded and frayed and, maybe, add a new one to their celebration’s shopping list.

True appreciation is measured by our depth of experience and understanding. Today, less than 1 percent of the population reaps the benefits resulting from the service and sacrifice of the less than 1 percent of the population who serve the politicians elected by the majority of people who separate, and have no direct involvement with, these two segments of society. And this disconnection and separation is no accident.

During the war Congress declared the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, citizens didn’t thank members of the military for their service because everyone, one way or the other, was involved and contributed to a successful outcome. For many, Korea is a forgotten conflict, but it set the stage for all the undeclared conflicts that followed. War, as Eisenhower warned, is big business, and public protest is a political challenge that complicates their promotion and prosecution. Vietnam proved this, and people protested because the draft could send any one of them into harms way. And on the nightly news they would watch their loved ones suffer for a cloudy cause.

flagfoldThe politicians, most of whom have never served and faced the possibility of a sudden end to life, solved this problem by replacing the draft with the all volunteer force. And never again would the news media work with the unrestricted access it had in Vietnam. Nor could they show the return of flag-draped transfer cases. “Privacy,” the politicians said, but certainly a planeload of flags bedecked boxes says something more—something different—than a missing-man flyover and the single triangle-folded flag presented to the family to conclude a funeral’s full military honors.

Understanding is the antidote for hypocrisy, and films that promote and criticize America’s endless series of conflicts can contribute to it. Watching requires more involvement than saying “Thanks” to a uniformed stranger. Put yourself in the protagonist’s place and wonder how you—and your family—would feel and deal with the consequences projected on the screen. Build on this understanding, test its veracity with questions and settle for nothing less than a direct answer to it, make it a resource that guides your daily decisions. In so doing you can honestly honor those for whom this holiday was created after the nation’s most catastrophic conflict, the U.S. Civil War, which took the lives of roughly 620,000 individuals in military service. –Scott Spangler, Editor